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Obama signs national service legislation

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 22, 2009 - It wasn’t a question of if but when. President Obama this week signed into law a large expansion of national service that he vocally supported over the past several months. The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which worked its way through Capitol Hill last month and goes into effect on October 1, reauthorizes and expands service programs administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency created in the early 1990s.

The headliner is an expected increase in AmeriCorps slots from 75,000 to 250,000 over the next eight years. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed earlier this year, provided federal funding to support AmeriCorps members serving in distressed communities.

AmeriCorps received more than 17,000 online applications in March, nearly three times the amount it got in March 2008. About twice as many people have applied to the AmeriCorps St. Louis program compared to this time last spring. The vast majority of program volunteers are between 18 and 26. Kathleen Becherer, the AmeriCorps St. Louis program director, said most participants based here are in their 20s.

The law increases the AmeriCorps Education Award that members receive after finishing their term of service to the level of the maximum Pell Grant amount (which is currently $5,350). It also establishes a Summer of Service program to give $500 education awards for junior high and high school students to take part in community service projects.

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